Beating Breast Cancer Twice Strengthens HCDE Therapist’s Empathy

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October 23, 2019 by HCDE-Texas

After being diagnosed with breast cancer a second time, school-based occupational therapist Meredith Miller considers herself a “thriver” versus a survivor.

Like many of the students with disabilities she serves, Miller knows how difficult it can be to navigate the medical or therapy world to get the services you need.

She feels the pith of anxiety that goes with tending to family, work and fighting cancer–twice.

“My journey has taught me the importance of extending grace to others, and how to do it,” said the Harris County Department of Education therapist from Katy who works in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District.

As a school-based occupational therapist, the 12-year HCDE employee supports students’ academic achievement and social participation in all school routines, including recess, classroom, and cafeteria time.

Her boss, Amy Collins, calls Miller a “tremendous asset to Cy-Fair ISD and HCDE.” She is talented as a therapist and committed to students and schools she serves, says her manager.

The Scary Ride:

In 2012 at age 34, Miller was diagnosed with stage 0 breast cancer. It had not spread to other cells in the breast or to other organs.

Similar to actress Angelina Jolie who has the BRCA1 mutation gene, Miller had the BRCA2 mutation gene, causing an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. She opted for a double mastectomy followed by immediate reconstruction of the tissue.

As she neared her five-year mark of being cancer-free, Miller was doing a self-check exam and felt a lump as small as a grain of rice during a self-check exam.

“And so begins the whirlwind of tests,” said the wife and mother.

An ultrasound followed, then a mammogram and biopsy. The phone call from the doctor came next.

“Are you sitting down?” the doctor asked. “It’s cancer. I’m so sorry.”

Two weeks later, there was a plan to do a lumpectomy followed by four-to-six rounds of chemo. Results looked good, but tests showed her silicone implants were leaking.

“We go back to surgery, but this time I opt to have both implants removed and will not undergo reconstruction,” she said. “The medical community considers this a second double mastectomy.”

Summer of 2017, Miller underwent more chemo and returned during the fall to do daily radiation.

On Thanksgiving week, she rang the bill to signify she was cancer-free.

Life After Cancer:

Cancer is a nasty voice in Miller’s head which is always there. She tries to live in the now and not focus on the trivial. Faith, she says, carries her forward each day.

“After all of this, I don’t think I will ever feel like cancer is behind me,” she said. “It raises its ugly head every time I have a new pain, or something is off in the way I feel. I battle this every day to try to stay positive and focused on the joy in my life.”

It’s important to pull strength from the people who support you, she says, and from God.

“I recalled many days I could barely get out of bed and I would call out to God,” she said.

Her advice to others includes doing self-exams and yearly mammograms.

“Be cognizant of your body and listen to that little voice inside your head,” she said. “I thank God every day that I listened.”

About HCDE’s School-Based Therapy Services: We support children with disabilities and their families in the areas of occupational (OT), physical (PT) and music therapy (MT) since 1978. Support comes through assessment, intervention, consultation, training and direct service in the student’s classroom at their neighborhood school and district. We serve more than 7,000 students yearly, providing more than half of OT, PT and MT services to districts/charters in the county.

 

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